Monthly Archives: February 2016

Boy & The World

1026025-watch-gkids-unveils-us-trailer-boy-and-worldThis movie looks different, feels different, sounds different. Actually, I’d heard it was a silent film, and that’s not quite true. There’s a smattering of dialogue, unsubtitled, but that didn’t bother me. The images and the score are so evocative they’ve already buried under your skin, and you know what’s going on even if you can’t decipher the words. I probably shouldn’t admit this next bit, but upon looking it up, I see that the language is actually just a made up one – backwards Portuguese, apparently – so Boy_and_the_World_2.0.0that may reassure you while making me look stupid. Incidentally, I don’t speak Portuguese forwards either.

Long story short, the film’s about a young boy searching for his father who has gone to the city in search of work, but the combination of sweet and simple imagery coupled with jaunty music and depth of imagination makes for a pretty powerful message. We see the world through the eyes of a child, and it’s as fanciful as you’d think, but it’s also reflective. I think the larger statement being made is a cautionary tale. At one point the boy seems to have found 960his father, only to find many identical men exiting an office building. Has his father become a clone? Has the city stolen his soul? Is there simply no difference between men who don’t make things with their own hands?I’m not sure of the exact sentiment the Brazilian film makers were hoping to convey, but that’s kind of the beauty of the thing. In its quiet, it allows the viewer to be making judgments for herself, and my reading of it was obviously pretty damning.

This film actually made its debut right here at the Ottawa International Animation Festival where it received special honours “Because it was full of some of the most beautiful menino_mundo_01_wide-31e6e3590ce09f3e938c01ad238ba8e1298eac2f-s900-c85images we’ve ever seen” and I think that’s putting it mildly. It’s some of the most innovative work I’ve seen in a while, despite the fact that the main character is basically a stick man, truly thrilling to watch and absorb. There we go, that’s what I’ve been getting to this whole time: it’s a movie that you don’t just watch. You experience it. The visuals feel quite personal and they take you back to your own childhood while thrilling you and keeping you guessing. All the drawings were hand-made The-Boy-And-The-World-thumb-600x350by the Director, Alê Abreu, and I just love how he makes this very basic character come to life against a geometric, swirling, abstract background. It’s moving. This is an image-heavy post, and I think you can tell it’s for good reason. Yes, I could talk about this all day but honestly, this is one you’ll have to see for yourself, if only you feel up to risking the nontraditional style.

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The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared

I read this book many moons ago and didn’t particularly like it. Sean’s 92 year old Grandma read it too and she didn’t like it either, because the book made fun of former presidents, and she’d “lived through all that.” Though if you can’t make fun of anything that happened during her nearly 93 years, it’s reduced me to cracking plague jokes and doing neanderthal bits.

I wasn’t overly excited about seeking this out when it became a movie, but out of respect for its Oscar-nominated makeup job, I decided to give it a go.

It literally is about an old man named Allan who, on his 100th birthday, avoids his nursing home many-candled cake by climbing out a window. He doesn’t exactly disappear though – at least, not to us. We follow him out the window and on to an incredible series of events, 08HUNDRED-facebookJumboincluding a suitcase full of drug money and a homicidal elephant, which is still secondary to the other trip he takes, the one down memory lane.

It turns out Allan has led a pretty incredible life, in part because his love of blowing shit up, and in part because he’s routinely been in the right place at the right time.

It stars Robert Gustafsson, a well-known comedian and actor in Sweden, who just happened to be less than half a century old when he shot this film. This presented a real challenge to the team who did the makeup and prosthetics as we see Allan not just as a 93419247-7904-4753-a65b-67018a827987centenarian, but through many decades of his life thanks to a series of flashbacks.

Whether or not you like this film will depend a lot on your tolerance for absurdist humour. There are high-jinks upon high-jinks here, and they add up to a sweet film with some chuckles that obviously has some appeal, but the movie, like the book, left me feeling like it should have been so much more.

Oscar Spotlight: Documentaries

If you’re in an Oscar pool this year (and I am), the safe money is probably on Amy – the approachable, watchable documentary about the rise and downfall of pop star Amy Winehouse. Netflix has two documentaries on amythe voter’s ballot this year – Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom, and What Happened, Miss Simone? – both honourable mentions that likely won’t go much further than that. Amy’s biggest competition is Cartel Land. Its director, Matthew Heineman won the best director award and a special jury award for cinematography at Sundance. The film also garnered the outstanding directorial achievement in documentary from the Directors Guild of America, and the Courage Under Fire award from the International Documentary Association. Impressive credentials, but as you know, at the Oscars, the best film doesn’t always win.

I watched Cartel Land recently (it’s available on Netflix as well, though not produced by them – so is Amy) and it is a good film. Heineman seeks to illuminate a particular drug cartel in Mexico by showing us two vigilante groups on either side of the border. In Mexico, a doctor by the name of Jose Mireles leads the Autodefensas, simply a group of concerned citizenscartel-land_hor-poster who are protecting their town from the invading cartel. Mexican police are corrupt and\or ineffective and these regular folks are trying their best to keep their streets and their children safe. In Arizona, a group of worrisomely racist jerks called Border Recon are led by Tim Foley. They claim to also be protecting their city from drug cartels though in fact they seem to just enjoy taking up arms against Mexicans of all and any kind. Though the drug cartel is obviously the villain in this scenario, Border Recon don’t exactly come across as the good guys. Heineman does a good job of showing us the desperation of the Mexican people who have repeatedly been failed by their government and now feel they have no choice but to rely on themselves and their neighbours, nearly every one of whom has a story – this fight is personal, not just principled.

But can this film topple the momentum built by the powerhouse Amy?

Not likely.

And not because it isn’t the better film. Amy was fine – it hit all the notes you expect it to. It just didn’t feel like it had more depth than her Wikipedia page. Yes her story has built-in tragedy, but I didn’t learn anything new and didn’t come away feeling enlightened. But what is a documentary’s purpose anyway?

Are documentaries supposed to be impartial? Michael Moore’s career seems to have debunked that one. Do we hold documentarians to the MichaleMooreTinyFlag500same standards we do journalists? Citizenfour won last year simply for being in the right place at the right time – director Laura Poitras was recruited by Edward Snowden to record those heady days when he blew the whistle, but she never aspired to more than observer, and she certainly went ultra-light on her treatment of Snowden. But historically the Academy tends to reward subject matter over style or substance, which often leaves me scratching my head on Oscar night.

In fact, the whole voting process for best documentary ensures that things are skewed. In 1994, a film called Hoop Dreams failed to receive a nomination when many critics thought it might be the best film of the year, period. When films are in the preliminary nomination stage, actors vote for actors, editors vote for editors, and documentarians vote for documentarians. You get to nominate your top 5, and at the time, you had to sign an affidavit that said you had actually seen all 5, and since hoop-dreams-movie-poster-1994-1020186086_1412286519088_8649679_ver1_0documentaries don’t often get runs in theatres, they would put on special Oscar screening parties to get the films shown to a committee. But people would only attend the screenings they heard about, so the films needed good PR and ideally a whole studio behind them generating buzz and interest. The committees had a sneaky way of communicating during a movie – they carried flashlights. When someone grew bored of the movie, they shone their flashlight on the screen. If enough people did that, they turned it off. Hoop Dreams, a film still revered two decades later, was shut off after about 15 minutes. Voters never really saw it, and probably less than 5% of the Academy ever sees enough documentaries to honestly vote. Other documentary producers seized on this loophole. In 2000, Aruthur Cohn, producer of One Day in September boasted, “I won this without showing it in a single theater!” He showed it only in invitation-only screenings, which made it hard for voters to see all 5 nominations, thereby shrinking the voting pool and improving his odds.

It took until 2013 for the Academy to make some changes to the rules. Now documentarians can send screener DVDs to the homes of voting Academy members, but to even be eligible you have to have had your film screened in LA or NYC for at least a week, and reviewed by the NY or LA Times – a feat nearly impossible unless you have a lot of money backing you. The little guys have been all but shut out. But it means that anyone with money can toss their hat in the ring, which meant in 2013 there were 149 qualifying docs. People are only going to watch the ones they’ve already heard about, so you’d better have a good PR machine churning out your title. And now that these DVDs are arriving in their homes, the voters are favouring movies they can pop in and watch with the whole family. Every year since these new rules, it’s the most commercial film that wins (also true in the animation category – voters vote for whichever movie was a better babysitter for their kids; Pixar will take it home again this year when we all know Anomalisa was the better film). Show business documentaries are very popular. No surprise, but far from a meritocracy.

I’d like to say may the best documentary win, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t even nominated. What was your favourite?

 

 

 

Don’t miss our other Oscar spotlights on cinematography, production design,  costumes and hair & make-up. And be sure to follow us on Twitter so you can keep score in our pool @assholemovies – the Oscars are live this Sunday night.

 

Oscar Spotlight: Emmanuel Lubezki

Cinematography is the art of making movies. Cinematographers, also called directors of photography, or d.p., might decide what kind of camera to use, what kind of film, what kind of lenses, whether a shot should be stationary or use movement, what angles can be shot, what material can be shot through (like a window pane, or water), what might obscure the camera, what light might enhance the mood, the depth of field (meaning how much of the foreground, mid-ground, and background will be in focus), and the aspect ratio (how the frame looks – a rectangle of 1.78 (16:9) is commonly used in high definition today, a compromise between the cinema’s ratio of 1.85 and TV’s 1.33 but some films, like Son of Saul, choose 1.375:1 to narrow the field of vision and Mommy used the squared 1:1, which kept the shots extremely birdmantight). They aren’t just recording the actors, they’re making choices that craft, manipulate, and interpret what we see. They oversee the camera operators, grips, and lighting crew to achieve this vision.

Emmanuel Lubezki is the Oscar-nominated cinematographer of The Revenant. He’s got a resume that’ll impress the pants off of anyone – his Academy-nominated work alone includes The Little Princess, Sleepy Hollow, The New World, Children of Men, and The Tree of Life. He actually won back to back Oscars for Gravity and Birdman and I believe he’s gravityabout to threepeat with The Revenant this Sunday. He’s remarkable in every way, yet humbly attributes lots of growth and learning to frequent collaborators, directors Terrence Malick, Alfonso Cuaron, and Alejandro Inarritu.

He’s known for seamless one-take shots and techniques that make you feel like you’re a part of the action. The Revenant allowed him to really flex his muscle and show us everything he’s capable of, all at once, in a way that still feels quite natural.  I’ll let him tell you about all his tricks in this movie: “we wanted to have a movie that was very immersive, very visceral, and to have a certain naturalistic base, even if some of the scenes have different degrees ofreality. So we didn’t use artificial light for that same reason and we used very, very wide lenses for that same reason, to be able to immerse the audience and to be able to tell the intimate together with the environment, to be able to capture the close-ups and the surroundings at the same time and allow the audience to pick what they want to see within the frame. And we used a lot of

the-revenantmoving cameras, either handheld or Steadicam cranes, but the camera is constantly moving. We did a lot of these shots that we call the elastic shots where we go from a very objective view from the audience’s point of view, to a very subjective point of view that is the point of view of the character, because we wanted to feel what he’s feeling but also see it as he would be if you were standing close to the action.”

If that sounds intense, believe me, it is. Have you seen The Revenant? You really should. There are other worthy nominees in this category – Edward Lachman for Carol, Robert Richardson for The Hateful Eight, John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road, and poor, poor Roger Deakins for Sicario, who holds the frustrating honour of most nominations without an award (13! – his work on Unbroken lost to Lubezki last year, and his work on Prisoners lost to him the year before that too). Sorry Roger, but I’m betting you’re going home empty-handed again this year (cinematographers don’t even receiving the consolation prize of a non-Academy-sanctioned swag bag, which this year contains a sex toy and a vapourizer among other fun prizes).

Cinematography is the only category in which no woman has even been nominated, and they’re shockingly under-represented in the profession. Some talented cinematographers to look out for, who just happen to be women: Maryse Alberti (Creed, Freeheld, The Wrestler), Ellen Kuras (Away We Go, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Reed Morano (The Skeleton Twins, Frozen River), Rachel Morrison (Fruitvale Station, Cake, Dope), Tami Reiker (Beyond The Lights), and Mandy Walker (Truth, Jane Got A Gun).

Back to Lubezki, who truly deserves to be honoured, penis or no penis (although when reached for comment, he gave affirmed “penis”) (not really). To me, the major feat of The Revenant is that it was shot entirely in natural light. That decision took an already grueling shoot and made it three times as THE REVENANTlong, limited by the hours during which they could shoot. They raced the sun each day, and battled the stars at night. The only extra lighting they used was during the camp fire scene – there was lighting off-screen to compensate for the wind making the flame flicker in a distracting way. The natural light also forced him to abandon film for digital, using the Arri Alexa 65 digital camera with lenses from 12mm to 21mm because film “didn’t have the sensitivity to capture the scenes we were trying to shoot, especially the things we shot at dawn and dusk. I felt this was my divorce from film — finally.”

lubezkiThe shoot was famously arduous but Lubezki insists it was worth it, citing a particular scene in the movie where Leo comes out of the freezing water, with his breath visible and lips blue, which wouldn’t have been possible without  “We would never have gotten anything like that. And while natural light is very complex because it’s constantly changing — which can be a problem for continuity — it’s beautiful.”

 

 

 

Oscar Spotlight: What the Hell is Production Design Anyway?

It might help you to know that the vaguely-titled production design category used to be called Art Direction, and it’s an award shared among the art director and set decorators. They’re responsible for the visual feel of the film, from designing sets to the style and look of the movie. They read the script and talk to the director to come up with a visual style – what is needed, but also what’s envisioned, what’s possible, and what’s affordable.

The production designer will research art history, politics, and historical information to get ideas. They might provide scale drawings and models of the sets they want to create for the studio to look at. They’re also sourcing studio locations to shoot on, or on-location sites that might be appropriate. They’re in charge of overseeing the construction of whatever needs to be built, and hiring and managing the whole art department to get this stuff done, down to the smallest prop on set. Knowledge of interior design, architecture, and fine art are all necessary. They either make a movie look believably real, or fantastically enchanted, or somewhere in between. Last year art director Adam Stockhausen and set decorator Anna Pinnock won for The Grand Budapest Hotel, a great illustration of every last detail mattering, everything coming together to immerse the audience in this particular world, a hotel in which Matt would readily stay any day of the week.

This year Stockhausen is nominated again along with set decorators Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich for Bridge of Spies; Michael Standish and Eve Stewart for The Danish Girl; Colin Gibson and Lisa Thompson for Mad Max: Fury Road; Celia Bobak and Arthur Max for The Martian and Jack Fisk and Hamish Purdy for The Revenant.

For Bridge of Spies, production design had to not only faithful recreate 1960s Americana, but also to reproduce same-era Berlin in the throes of the cold war. Stockhausen has to find New York locations that could bofspiesdouble as the courtrooms of that era, then go through the unenviable process of getting permits, and then make sure those locations would actually allow for the “geometry” of the shot – can the cameras move around, can Tom Hanks look out a window and see the Statue of Liberty, can roads be closed down for shooting, will the building allow aesthetic changes to make sure it looks period-appropriate. Then he had to go to Germany and do it all over again (and then to Poland when Germany couldn’t quite do it). And while some locations can be physically manipulated to fit the bill, others will have to be enhanced with visual effects. A whole block had to be realistically bridgeofspiesrecreated so a character could ride their bike through town. Then they have to make sure that the film crew is arriving at the right time of year if locations are weather-specific (like foliage being in season, or snow-covered streets) and have a back-up schedule in case mother nature doesn’t cooperate, or a rain machine if she’s really temperamental. Some locations, like the Supreme Court, mean only shooting at night when it’s closed, so set decorators rush in last minute to convert the space and use colour to make them stick out in the minds of the audience – a warm palette for New York, and cooler tones for Berlin.

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The Danish Girl is visually stunning, as it should be, since both Danish girls in question – the transitioning Lili Elbe and her partner, Gerda – are both artists. Eve Stewart was inspired by Scandinavian artists of the time and used a colour palette of blues and grays for their apartment initially, and danishgirlthen broadened it once the characters start to blossom, the colour shift signaling to audiences that the characters are shifting too. When they move to Paris, art nouveau is all the rage, and as Lili begins to emerge, we see that more feminine, curvy architecture, and pinks and golds emerge. Stewart has now worked with director Tom Hooper five times, and finds that his films allow her to be “nosy”, to fully investigate characters’ lives. The major coup of this thedanishgirlshoot though, Stewart attributes to not only landing a harbor location on Copenhagen, but “cajoling” historical boat owners to bring their ships down for the filming.  People skills are a must for production design – Stewart also had to get permission to film in museums in Brussels that had never allowed such a thing before. But for the apartments, a tight shooting schedule meant building the sets, and Stewart took to Ebay to find moulding and wood paneling that would cheaply fit the bill. She describes her work as a “treasure hunt” and if you’ve seen The Danish Girl, you know her efforts paid off.

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Mad Max: Fury Road is a different animal. When Sean was making his picks for our Oscar pool, he asked if this category would include “all the madmaxcool cars” and when I said yes, he immediately put Mad Max down as his choice to win it all. Colin Gibson definitely set out to show what could be done – not just to dream big, but to really physically make it real. “If we defy gravity we first must show its existence, and then go out of our way to make sure that what we design and build can really do what we imagine it can do.” Out of the amazing fleet of vehicles, Gibson can hardly stand to choose a Car-madmax-31fafavourite among his babies but admits “Probably Joe’s Gigahorse because it was built from the ground up. Everything was basically built by hand; it’s the one that’s dearest to my heart.” But in order to accommodate the actors, Gibson not only had to build this army of badass vehicles, he also had to recreate the cabs and driver’s seats in other locations to make close-up shots more feasible. He also had to constantly contend with safety – these things had to not only look cool, but also drive, and be a safe place for the stunt work to take place. Screenshot 2015-10-23 21_14_03Gibson’s real herculean task was to find the perfect desert to shoot in. He travelled the most arid locations in the world – the Chilean Atacama, the salt lakes of Bolivia, boggy flats of Tunisia, sandscapes from Jordan to Libya to Dubai – until finally finding “Arid riverbed canyons, huge orange and pink dunescapes, gibber plain and empty open nothingness for 360 degrees, and a mountainous ridge half an hour from town crying out to be our opening shot” in the Namib desert. But keep in mind this isn’t a period piece, and Gibson wasn’t recreating the apocalypse, he was reimagining it.

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Back to period pieces, The Revenant’s production design crew got to bring 19th century frontier life to the big screen, but it also had some of the revsame challenges of Mad Max in terms of hostile settings. Jack Fisk hiked for months to find the perfect slices of forest or terrain for each shot – and then a back-up one as well in case of flooding or blizzard – systematically covering “every inch of Alberta.” The physical sets were built from the ground up – the fort in its entirety was actually functional, the Indian villages authentic, the campsites thoughtfully laid out – even the canoes were built by hand. Fisk had an additional challenge because director Inarritu and d.p. Emmanuel Lubezki chose to shoot entirely in revskullsnatural light, so Fisk had to make sure none of his props casted unwanted shadows or reflected\revealed the camera. Fisk and Purdy worked together to build the infamous mountain of skulls – buffalo skulls to be exact. Buying real ones was difficult and expensive, so they made casts of the 5 they had, made a hundred replicas, and assembled them in a way that could be replicated quickly on set (this scene was shot the same day as Leo and the cliff-horse scene, so it was a revvillagebusy one to say the least). Fisk did anthropological research to get the Pawnee village just right – there weren’t any photographs back then so he had to rely on paintings instead. The church ruins were built out of Styrofoam blocks in a warehouse and transported to the location when they found the perfect trees to build around. The blocks were painted with Russian frescoes and a bell was carved out of Styrofoam last-minute on Inarritu’s whim. The work of a production designer is never done!

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And finally, a movie that didn’t mess around with different periods – it messed around with different worlds. The Martian takes place both on Mars and on Earth – and also on a shuttle in space. Production designer martianroverArthur Max has worked exclusively with David Fincher and Ridley Scott – mostly Scott – both of whom he met while they were all working on commercials. He’s run the gamut between more intimate dramas like G.I. Jane and more sweeping historical stuff like Gladiator. He thinks of his job in terms of “How do you tell a story in 30 seconds?” Max’s story in The Martian started at NASA, where he quickly learned that THE MARTIANblack\silver and gold\orange were a MUST in terms of colour palette simply because the tape that real astronauts use all the time (called Kapton, resistant to gamma rays and solar radiation) is amber, plain and simple. The Johnson Space Centre was very open with its latest designs (as long as Max signed a non-disclosure agreement to keep it under his hat until the movie came out) but of course Max took the science and then the-martian-31made it look cool (NASA is not known for its aesthetic sense). Anything bearing the NASA logo had to be approved by then, and had to be based on existing technology, the movie being “near-future”, not futuristic. Max’s biggest challenge was that gravity wheel. The actors are literally seen going down it and it couldn’t be faked – or not entirely! They built these sets on a sound stage in Budapest, the biggest inmartian-design5-articleLarge the world, just barely big enough to fit all of Mars, and for Matt Damon to get into his rover and drive it around. But for most of “Mars”, Damon and crew went to Wadi Rum (also known as the Valley of the Moon) in southern Jordan. Leave it to Max to find a little bit of Mars right here on Earth.

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Who’s got your vote?

The Oscars are handed out this Sunday – be sure to follow us on Twitter where we’ll be live-tweeting from our Oscar party. And check out other pieces in our series – costumes, hair & make-up, documentaries.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

There is a patina of sorrow over this documentary that I was aware of from the very first scene.

Nina Simone, one of the greatest jazz singers, entertainers, and concert pianists ever, felt isolated by and from both the black and the white community though she was admired and originalidolized by both. And how could they (we)  not?  She truly was a grand dame of jazz, with a depth and darkness to her voice that touched all who listened. The film is not short of people willing to praise her talents, but we get a true sense of her personality when she is profuse in her own praise of other artists as well. Ever humble, she is generous to other musicians and quiet about her own accomplishments though thankful to those who helped her along the way.

The greatest treat in this documentary is undoubtedly the vintage footage of Miss Simone performing. It gives you a real sense of how timeless her sound was, how her incredibly rich voice can still reach across the years and fill your heart like velvet. Oh man.

Simone was also a “patron saint of the rebellion”- a woman who reflected the times she lived in, proudly. She was tired of the establishment in more way than one and did her part to expose its hypocrisies, even if it was at the expense of her white audience. She wasn’t afraid to align herself with militants and defined herself as “not nonviolent” even though MLK was a friend of hers; thankfully she had music at her disposal and not guns. When she started playing exclusively political songs, it affected her career. But she believed it was part of the artist’s role to preach what they believed, to have their art contain a message, and hers certainly did, notably with Mississippi Goddamn, a song written in response to and expressing sorrow and anger over the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the Baptist church bombing in Birmingham that killed four little girls.

Simone lived in an era where society didn’t appreciate a woman’s genius, let alone a black woman’s. What did it do to her? She struggled with depression and appeared to already be in a downward spiral when Dr. King was assassinated. But when a battle with bipolar threatens – will she be willing to take medication that could rob her of her music?

Simone has been dead for a decade but never ever forgotten. This documentary helps to shed some light on a strong, interesting, multi-faceted woman. It’s nominated for an Oscar this year in a category that feels fairly locked up by Amy, an inferior offering. But the good news is, you can see them both on Netflix right now, and decide for yourself.

Oscar Spotlight: Makeup & Hairstyling

The nominees for the 2016 Academy Award for best makeup and hairstyling are few: Love Larson & Eva von Bahr for The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared; Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega & Damian Martin for Mad Max: Fury Road; and Sian Grigg, Duncan Jarman & Robert Pandini for The Revenant.

The Revenant:

leoJarman: Sian and I were working on “Suffragette” — we were actually doing the scene outside the Houses of Parliament at the time. She mentioned that she had been given the script for “The Revenant” and would I be interested in doing the prosthetics. She has been Leo’s make-up artist since “Titanic,” and I have made prosthetics for him since “The Aviator.” We flew out to L.A. a week or so later to have our first meeting with [director Alejandro G. Iñárritu]. I have done a lot of blood gags on films like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Band of maxresdefaultBrothers.” But it was the idea of taking that out of the studio environment and into some really harsh terrain and temperatures that really interested me.

Grigg: I have to say the whole film was a huge challenge, knowing that the make-up was so integral to explaining (fur trapper Hugh Glass’) journey and recovery. If his make-up was not convincingly natural, then it could undermine the film. You have to believe he has been savagely attacked by the bear, that his wounds have turned gangrenous, that they recover in the sweat 285lodge and that he has real ice in his beard — not paraffin wax — and frost nip on his face and lips — not prosthetics pieces. If it starts to look like make-up at any time, you could take the audience out of the immersive quality of the film; it’s staggering how Alejandro and (D.P. Emmanuel Lubezki) manage to make you feel like you are there in the film with Glass, not just watching him on the screen. You even start to feel cold so the naturalism of the make-up is integral and essential.

Inarritu insisted that the wounds not only look realistic, but also appear to bleed freely – and then be stitched up by actors in the same long take. Neck-wound-prosthetics-445515Impossible you say? To make this happen, the makeup artists used copious amounts of fake blood, created silicone neck equipment that could “bubble and bleed” and added wig lace that could be “stitched” back together by Leo’s cast mates. Poor Leo had to lie in freezing mud connected to dozens of blood lines, covered in cold blood for hours. But it looks damn real in the movie.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared:

The 100 year old man is portrayed in the film by a well-known comedic actor less than half that age. Larson & von Bahr were apprehensive about taking on the task. “When they called us, we thought, ‘Thank you so much for asking us, but no thank you,’” said Larson. “It’s such a hard thing to do with a character in daylight. It’s a suicide mission. If we failed, we would never get a job again.”LR-Allan-4-6

It took four and a half hours to get the actor into 100-year-old mode. “We started off with a back of his neck,” she explained, “a front piece, a neck piece, silicone baldcap, which covered his whole forehead and eyebrows. The edge included parts of his upper eyelids. We 100-yr-old_hands_1200x800_Web_ctsyLoveLarson-300x199added cheek pieces, an upper lip, a chin, a nose piece and ear pieces, as well as lace eyebrows that were laid and lace sideburns. The whole baldcap was punched with strands of hair individually. We didn’t use any lace pieces on the baldcap. He had contact lenses made by the Reel Eye Company in the U.K. and vacuum-form pieces for his teeth that looked more gray and old-ish – really thin but pretty much like dentures with a 0.2mm thick plastic layer. It doesn’t affect his speech and you can tint and color them.”

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“All the pre-paint was mainly done with silicone paint mixed with oil paint and a Paasche brush utilizing spackling techniques, layers and layers,” LarsonLR-100-yr-old_bald-cap_1200x800_Web_ctsyLoveLarson-300x199 stated. “In the trailer, I added castor oil, airbrushed with a Paasche airbrush. If you add castor oil to the Illustrator colors, it becomes a bit more flexible. Then, we added all of the fine details and sealed it with silicone caulking.” Silicone caulking guys – imagine sitting through that! (Well, technically, Matt and I almost can – if you missed the piece where we sit through our own makeup ordeal, check it out.)

Mad Max: Fury Road:

In total the makeup, hair and special effects personnel were a 35 strong crew, headed by Lesley Vanderwalt who knew she wanted Damian Martin as her prosthetics guy.  A typical day on the bagger-madmax1-master675set meant doing “60-120 of the background ‘War Boys’, mainly stuntmen, and about 8-10 close-up War Boys in prosthetics in the tent. We would allow 2.5-3 hours for prosthetics and two hours for the background boys, stunt doubles and picture doubles.” The make-up team actually taught the War Boys actors how to do their own makeup as director George Miller wanted them to be able to individualize their own looks. It must have beCZ4gyk6UAAA65naen grueling to do so many looks on so many people, but the real challenging was getting the make-up to stand up in the desert conditions without getting lots of gritty sand stuck in it – keeping the War Boys white in such a dirty environment was near-impossible, she insists.

You may remember from the movie that the Max\Furiosa team encounter lots of different tribes during their trek out in the desert, and Vanderwalt remembers being inspired by “the oil Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Nux-scars-V8-engine-230x300fields in Angola, the workers of Salgado, the rubbish heaps in the Philippines, and other bleak environments. I also looked at African tribal and Indian religious festivals and Polynesian and Maori scarification.” All the tattoos sported by Max and the like are obviously makeup applications as well, not to mention the horrific genetic anomalies that many characters sport. The most mad max fury road makeup nominationtime-consuming of all the characters was the old lady who was covered in tattoos, Miss Giddy. It took a 6 hour application to get her fully coated, done the day before, and the actress (Jennifer Hagan) would have to sleep in them – very carefully! Now that’s dedication.

Which team would you give the Oscar to?

Check out our spotlight on the costume design race, and be sure to follow us on Sunday as we live-tweet our Oscar party @assholemovies .

Ricki And The Disappointment

For better or worse, I hold Meryl Streep movies to a higher standard than the rest. Meryl Streep has become her own synonym for being a superb, kick-ass actress. She’s really the best we’ve got, and so you naturally want her to be good every time, and for the movie she’s in to be an appropriate vehicle. This one’s not.

On paper, it sounded almost promising: a young woman is devastated by the breakup of her marriage, and so her estranged mother who left the family to pursue a life of rock and roll is called in for back up. Might be fun to watch Meryl rock out, be a bit of a badass. We’ve heard Meryl sing show tunes (Into the Woods), disco (Mama Mia), country (A Prairie Home Companion) and the blues (Postcards from Reality). Why not rock? And why not throw in some stuff on aging, motherhood, second chances, redemption. Cast Meryl’s real-life daughter, Mamie Gummer (what a name to be saddled with!) and 80s pop relic Rick Springfield, and voila: a movie that practically makes itself. Right?

In reality: kind of a bore, kind of a chore.

We need to talk about Diablo Cody. She’s the wunderkind who gave us Juno, the hyper-verbal, weirdly anti-abortion, high school pregnancy film that took Hollywood by storm. But that was so 2007. Her attempts to replicate success have been…well, lackluster: Jennifer’s Body, Young Adult, and now this. I know it’s hard to let go, Hollywood, but like the only Rick Springfield hit you can name (Jessie’s Girl), it’s time to call Diablo Cody what she is: a one-hit wonder.

I kind of liked Meryl as Ricki, but I didn’t like Ricki, and nobody else should have either. Not her family, certainly. Rick Springfield (of all people) tells her early on: “It doesn’t matter if your kids love you or not. It’s not their job to love you. It’s your job to love them.” That feels like a full-circle moment – you know, that little piece of wisdom in a film that will eventually come back to our protagonist at the moment of truth so we can see how far she’s come. Yeah, someone should tell Diablo about that. Because what actually happens is: Ricki leaves her kids, again. Wallows in self-pity. Comes back only when someone else extends an olive branch and someone else makes a sacrifice, and even then, she manages to make someone else’s special day all about her. Character development? Growth? Um. Not here. But what we do get is a scintillating Diablo simile in which a human heart is compared to a Big Mac – you know, because neither ever spoils (?).

Meryl is great, and I enjoyed Kevin Kline as the ex-husband and Audra McDonald as the new wife and replacement mother, though found her criminally underused. Nothing against Meryl, obviously, but Audra’s a huge Broadway star so it felt a little odd to have her in a non-singing role in such a song-heavy movie. But the songs are only there to attempt to bring some cohesiveness to a movie that otherwise feels like a bunch of random scenes that felt like good ideas but had no real raison d’etre. The tone is…I’m waffling between inconsistent and non-existent. Am I feeling generous? Enh, not really.

I was bored, and I was frustrated. Is it an adequate time-waster? I suppose. It’s minimally offensive, although now that I think of it, Ricki is a Bush supporter, ostensibly because she “supports the troops” (there’s something to that, but we never really find out what – my hunch: cutting room floor) and opposes gay marriage (because people who abandon their children are paragons of family values) but in fact she also complains about the unlivable minimum wage which means she can’t afford to shop at the grocery store she works at. How and why is an aging rocker who dresses like a hooker at night court so goddamned conservative? Your guess is as good as mine. But is it all worth it just to hear Streep cover both Springstein AND Lady Gaga? Just maybe.

Oscar Spotlight: Sandy Powell

Sandy Powell is already a renowned costumer designer: she was awarded the sandrapowellOBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2011 Queen’s New Years Honours List for her services to costume design and the film industry for her work on films such as The Crying Game, Rob Roy, The End of The Affair, and The Other Boelyn Girl. She’s been nominated for an Academy Award 12 times already and won three – for Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator, and The Young Victoria – but she’s not up for one this year, she’s up for two!

Comparing her Oscar-nominated efforts for 2015, Powell said “On ‘Cinderella,’ the biggest challenge is living up to everyone’s expectations: How can you do another version that will be as iconic and not disappoint. On ‘Carol,’ the challenge was more time and money. Totally different worlds.” Different worlds, but she made her mark on both. Powell has a long history of working on period pieces, with Harvey Weinstein noting “Sandy’s great gift is her ability to make historical costumes look contemporary. She manages to be both true to the 8881sbperiod and modern.”  Powell would agree. “Unless of course the film requires it, I’m not interested in an exact replica of the period. I look at the period, how it should be, how it could be, and then I do my own version.” And that’s how you win awards.

A costume designer thinks up the costumes – not just what a character might likely be wearing, but how that outfit could enhance the character’s personality, or reflect a time period or social status. There’s often a lot of thought to colour – indeed, colour can reflect the plot, or help us distinguish good guys from bad guys. Tone and texture help create the world a character lives in. A costume may also distort or enhance the character’s body – Julia vampireRoberts famously thanked a costumer for giving her cleavage in Erin Brockovich. Sandy Powell, while working on Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, said “It was different. Tom Cruise was lovely to me, but there were many discussions about his height in relation to Brad Pitt’s. There are always vanity concerns.”

The costume designer has a whole wardrobe department working under them to realize the film’s look. They’ll also be consulting and influencing the makeup and hair stylists as well. A wardrobe department consists of set costumers (usually for each of the lead characters), key costumers, and a costume supervisor. The tasks are split between the “making wardrobe”, the people who use the designs to create or acquire the costumes in pre-production (before filming) and the “running wardrobe”, the people who maintain costumes during filming and make sure they’re available each day of filming.

“As a costume designer,” says Powell,  “you need to be able to sew. Not be the greatest tailor or sewer in the world but you have to know how things are constructed otherwise you can’t talk to your tailors and your cutters and your seamstresses. You have to be able to understand their job to tell them what to do. You can’t just not have any knowledge of construction.”

The assistant designer helps the designer with research, shopping, rentals and fittings for all characters; the designer is creating a vision which will be informed by all kinds of inspiration. The costume supervisor is in charge of aviatorcoming up with a realistic budget (Sandy Powell had a 2 million dollar budget for The Aviator!), keeping track of all the receipts, and managing the demands of the production schedule (like, which costumes will be needed on which day). The set costumer is in charge of costume continuity – if someone removes a sweater in the first part of the scene, it needs to stay off. And if someone is shot, their jacket needs to have a bullet hole thereafter. That kind of thing. The key costumer will supervise the set costumers and maintain the principle costumes for the lead actors’ wardrobes. The truck costumer is the person inside the wardrobe trailer at the shoot; they make sure the costumes for the actors are in their personal trailers\dressing rooms when they’ll need them, clean or dirty as the shoot requires. A dresser helps with fittings and alterations, and getting all those extras into their costumes.

There are dozens of people thinking about what jeans will do the job, and how they’ll look, and how distressed they should be, and if they  need to be hemmed, and where to buy them, and if they’re affordable, and what wonders they’ll do for someone’s bum, and how to transport them to the set, and if they’ll need to be ironed or if wrinkly is more the thing, and of someone will need help wriggling into them, and if they’ll need to be washed at the end of the day, or if they’ll smell like horse, or need blood splatter. Someone did a piss-poor job of the jeans job on the set of War of the Worlds, because Tom Cruise, who played a lowly construction worker, was spotted wearing a $300 pair of jeans while operating a crane. Not bloody likely, and not likely to occur on Powell’s watch, either. Ever humble, though, she insists “a costume designer’s contribution is to help make some believable characters, that’s all.”

Sandy Powell is responsible for the beautiful look of Cinderella – and while Cinderella’s ball gown is obviously a showstopper, I was even more enamoured with Cate Blanchett’s eye-catching pieces.

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To make this one dress took Powell perhaps 4 to 5 months. “First of all, there’s a crinoline over a wire cage. Then there are petticoats with hundreds and hundreds of miles of frills to give it the volume and the lightness. On top of that are the really fine layers of fabric.” Those layers of fabric are not just blue, but greens and lilacs and aquas that together achieve that beautiful, perfect blue.

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Between Cinderella, the fairy godmother, and the wicked stepmother, Sandy Powell used 1.7 million Swarovski crystals.

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The fairy godmother dress actually had LED lights that made it twinkle.

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The wicked stepmother’s jewel tones had some surprising inspiration. “I wanted her to look like a traditional wicked characters. I based her on people like Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford in the 1940s as if they were doing a 19th century period piece, and getting it all a little bit wrong. I wanted her colors to be strong and I wanted always there to be an element of black, so she’s always wearing some black.”

And the shoe?

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Powell visited the Northampton Museum and Art Gallery in England where she searched the archives for old, period shoes and found a beautiful pair from the 1890s that were “incredibly elegant and had a ridiculously high five-inch heel. I knew I wanted to use that shape—just in glass. They lent me the shoe. I made a 3D copy of it and worked with Swarovski to really get that shape and turn it into a faceted crystal shoe.”

But let’s not forget Powell’s equally stunning work on Carol.

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“For Carol, I looked at a lot of fashion magazines, including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, from the period exactly from the months that we were shooting — the winter months in 1952 going into 1953 —  and that pretty much that gave me all the shapes, all the color tones, everything that I needed.”

carolwardrobe

“I looked at the specific fashion photographers like Gordon Parks, Clifford Coffin and Cecil Beaton, and if you pick up any magazine from 1952, that is the silhouette you will see. In order to CAROLcreate that silhouette, I had to start with the undergarments. That’s not Cate’s natural silhouette — she doesn’t have pointed bosoms [laughs]. Believe it or not, a lot of the jacket shapes are actually padded over the hips to give that hip shape and the small waist and the bras provide that shape of the bosom. So you create the silhouette from the foundation garments and build the clothing over the top.”

 

But if you’re thinking she’s a shoe-in for the Oscar, I’m not quite confidant you’re right. She’s got strong competition from Paco Delgado for The Danish Girl, Jenny Beavan for Mad Max: Fury Road, and Jacqueline West for The Revenant. I don’t think anyone’s a lock in this competition!

Race

race 1Jesse Owens deserved better.  Race is a movie that hits the points you’d expect but does it so mechanically that it has no momentum.  Rather than having the power of its Olympic sprinter protagonist, Race is soft and lumbering, like a darts competition at the local dive bar.

The only time Race really shines is during the one-on-one exchanges between Owens (Stephan James) and his coach, Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis).  Those conversations are funny, warm and real.  Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between.  It’s too bad that the film didn’t put those interactions into the foreground as that would have made for a much more
enjoyable movie.

Perhaps the problem is there was simply too much ground to cover.  Race’s story follows Owens through the course of several years during the race 2peak of his career.  We flip back and forth between Ohio, New York, Berlin, Nebraska, Michigan, Los Angeles, and probably more places that I’ve forgotten.  We hit the athletic highlights, like Owens setting three world records and tying a fourth in less than an hour in 1935, and Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games.  We touch on the hypocrisy of the United States’ threat to boycott those Berlin games at a time when racism and segregation were the status quo in the “land of the free”.  We gloss over the rest of Owens’ life by way of end titles and some nice photographs of Owens and family at various stages of his life.

There is a good movie in here somewhere but the plodding delivery sinks it (and the important-sounding score doesn’t help matters).  Race seems to want to be a message movie highlighting the aforementioned hypjesse-owensocrisy by showing us the second-class citizenship of Owens even when he’s America’s hero.  If that was the aim, Race falls well short.  Painting Hitler and the Nazis as the bad guys is easy, and Race goes that route.  But the real story is more damning and I wish Race had told it as it happened.  At a political rally in October 1936, relatively soon after his triumphant return to the U.S. with four gold medals in hand, Owens said,  “Some people say Hitler snubbed me. But I tell you, Hitler did not snub me. I am not knocking the President….but remember that the President did not send me a message of congratulations because people said, he was too busy.”  Hitler reportedly shook Owens’ hand after his victories, while Franklin Delano Roosevelt couldn’t find the time to send Owens a congratulatory telegram.

The President’s indifference to Owens presumably lines up with the attitudes of white America at the time.  That may explain why Owens’ life after 1936 was a difficult one.  His amateur status was revoked when he tried to make some endorsement money from his Olympic success, and after loRACEsing his amateur status he was reduced to racing against horses for show.  Later, Owens got by as a dry cleaner and gas station attendant (though “got by” may be generous as he declared bankruptcy and was prosecuted for tax evasion).  All in all, it’s a very sad statement.  Today, Owens is rightfully regarded as a legend but it seems that during his lifetime he was not treated like one, to say the least.  Race hints at that fate but doesn’t focus on it, and that’s a shame.

That’s probably the biggest reason that Race seems like an opportunity missed.  Coach Snyder would have called it a natural that lacks the work ethic required to be truly great. For its half-hearted effort, Race gets a score of five medals out of ten.